First close-ups of Ultima Thule reveal it resembles snowman

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The New Horizons spacecraft's picture of an icy object 4 billion miles from Earth became a lot clearer today, and took on a surprisingly familiar shape.

"New Horizons is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system", Moore said.

Seeing MU69, then, is like peering into the solar system's past.

Nasa confirmed Tuesday that the spacecraft - New Horizons - completed its flight past Ultima Thule at 12.33am on January 1, Eastern Time. A distant object now actually feels real to everyone here on Earth. "On the other hand, it would be nice to go more than one day in 2019 without thinking about Nazis". That supports the idea that billions of years ago, amid the swirling chaos of the early solar system, matter collected in larger and larger clumps until their gravity was strong enough to develop into planets and moons.

In addition to the clip, NASA also shared an artist's rendering, along with a theory about how Ultima Thule could have formed over time, beginning with a rotating cloud of icy bodies.

"Congratulations to NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again", said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. It was also a vast improvement over images snapped the day before, which provided more hints about Ultima Thule's shape and rotation.

Instead, they focused on what the new images told them about planetary science.

Planetary scientists have now nicknamed the two lobes, giving the name Ultima to the larger one and Thule to the smaller one.

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Carly Howett, New Horizons co-investigator, said: 'We can definitively say that Ultima Thule is red'.

Slowing turning, they eventually touched at each other at what mission geology manager Jeff Moore called an "extremely slow speed" - maybe just one to a few miles per hour. He joked: "If you had a collision with another auto at those speeds you may not even bother to fill out the insurance forms". That means its two lobes are separate objects that have joined together.

As the probe flies 2,200 miles (3,540 km) above Thule's surface, scientists hope it will detect the chemical composition of its atmosphere and terrain in what NASA says will be the closest observation of a body so remote.

Since the first approach photographs were released (which were pixilated and blurry), the New Horizons team has released new images from the spacecraft that show Ultimate Thule in color and greater detail.

New Horizons was launched in 2006 on a mission to fly by Pluto.

"What we'll very soon learn about this primordial building block of our solar system will exponentially expand our knowledge of this relatively unknown third region of space", Stern said. That's why it already holds such lessons about the formation of the planets.

"Moments like this are what keep me going", Verbiscer says.